The USA women, now ranked No. 1 in the world, went 3-0 to begin Volleyball Nations League play in Rimini, Italy, this week after beating Brazil in four on Thursday.
“Winning three matches for three points is huge,” Sarah Wilhite Parsons said. “It’s good to start the tournament this way.”
The Americans, who next play Monday against Serbia, defeated, in order, the Dominican Republic, Canada, and Brazil.
In the only major international women’s indoor competition before the Tokyo Olympics, teams play three matches in three days, take three days off, and then begin again. The USA still has 12 more matches remaining before the semifinals June 23.
(The USA men begin their VNL play Friday in Rimini against Canada. Read the USA Volleyball preview here.)
In the opener Tuesday against the Dominicans, the USA won 25-20, 25-21, 25-12 as former Stanford star Kathryn Plummer led with 14 kiills. The 2019 VolleyballMag.com national player of the year, who played professionally in Japan this past season, also had two blocks in her VNL debut.
“We are trying to maximize our potential,” Larson said. “It’s been a long time since we were able to compete under our flag and represent the USA, so we are very excited to be together again, just coming together for one goal. In this game there were times when we were a bit slow, but I think we got better as the match wore on.”
Tori Dixon added six kills and the other middle, Hannah Tapp, had four. The setter was Lauren Carlini and Justine Wong-Orantes, who had 10 digs, played libero. There were no subsitutes.
Against Canada on Wednesday, the first set was close but after that it was a mismatch as the USA won 26-24, 25-15, 25-10. Annie Drews played right side and led with 19 kiills while hitting .405. The MVP of the 2019 VNL added a block. Plummer had eight kills, two aces, and a block, and Wilhite Parsons, started at the other outside, also had eight and three blocks. Dixon added five kills and two blocks. Carlini had two kills and two blocks.
“We came out maybe a little too excited, a little jittery,” Drews said. “I know myself this is my first game in two years with Team USA, so a little nervous when you start the match. But after that we did a really good job staying patient and just taking point by point.”
The other middle was Tapp and Wong-Orantes, who had 17 digs, was again the libero. There were no subs once again.
Wilhite Parsons led the USA against Brazil with 21 kills, two aces, and two blocks. Larson and Drews had 15 kills each. Haleigh Washington, getting the start at middle, had nine kills and a block, and the other middle, Foluke (Akinradewo) Gunderson, had seven kills, an ace, and two blocks. USA Volleyball reported that Gunderson “played in her first match with the USA women since the FIVB World Championship in October 2018. The following year, while playing for her pro club in Japan, Gunderson discovered she was pregnant with son Kayode, who was born in November 2019.”
Wong-Orantes had 25 digs, and Jordyn Poulter, making the start at setter, had 11 digs.
“I’m just really proud of our team, the way we fought this battle,” Wilhite Parsons said “We started really strong in the first two sets, but then we made too many mistakes. But then we regained control, even if they pushed us.
“It was a difficult game for us,” Brazil’s Fe Garay said. “We tried hard, but they did it better. They played too fast and we tried to find our rhythm. It wasn’t our best game, but this is just the beginning. We have to try to find a way to get better and treat this game as an important experience.”
For more about all the USA players, read Megan Kaplon’s story telling what each of the 18 did before and after their college careers.
According to the FIVB, the teams are playing in a secure environment:
“The bubble will host just over 1,000 participants, from the team delegations to a streamlined number of officials, staff, TV production crew and service providers, across five hotels that will be used exclusive for the event.”
“There are also several key changes to conventional volleyball match protocol, with team handshakes, the exchange of gifts and switching court sides at the end of sets eliminated to minimise close contact between teams. There will also be no line judges for matches, and the video challenge system will be used instead.”
All the matches are being shown on volleyballworld.tv